I’m on my way this morning to the AHA, where I’ll first up be participating in THATCamp AHA. Happily, the presence of Dan Cohen on the AHA program committee, combined with the interest and commitment of outgoing President Anthony Grafton (and, incoming President Bill Cronon) have resulted in a real increase in Digital History-related panels, as well as this THATCamp. Dan Cohen will be doing a workshop on blogging for historians, something he’s been advocating on his own blog since 2006. There has been another round of discussion on the internets on the issue of academic blogging. See, for example, here and here. Cronon discovered during the Wisconsin anti-union dustup the potential reach and power a blog can have.
Earlier this week, Andrea Doucet published this piece in the Chronicle on her own experiences as an academic who blogs. I like Doucet’s distinction between the forms of writing and reading associated with, on the one hand, the academic’s usual labor and, on the other hand, the blogosphere. There are a number of academics who write prolifically for sites run in the mode of the blogger, as delineated by Doucet. One of my favorite such places is Lawyers, Guns, and Money. That’s obviously not the kind of publishing I do here on parezcoydigo, neither the frequency or range. Doucet notes that she didn’t start her own blog until she had reached mid-career status, a point at which she felt free to engage in less credit-minded forms of writing. It’s a shame that she, and many others like her, felt the need to wait.
I started this site in 2008, which isn’t that long ago and pretty late in the blogging game. I did so to have a place to write about the intersections between my formal work (I was revising my book at the time) and technology. There aren’t too many forums in which one can write about the process of research, including the nitty-gritty details of things like workflow. I also wanted to participate in what I saw as a new, and potentially powerful form of scholarly communication. As a new faculty, I decided to put stuff out on the web that I wish I’d had access to as a grad student back in the late 90s and early 00s, including that nitty gritty. I do write about my content work some as well, though most often in conjunction with process and workflow or, as yesterday, as part of conference reports. These types of posts tread somewhere between the tortoise and the hare, as divided by Doucet.
In my view, what’s spectacular about a blog as a platform is its flexibility. And I would emphasize in a way that Doucet did not that a blog is, above all else, simply a platform for writing. This is what I tell my students every semester when I require them to set up their own blogs. Platforms or frameworks in the digital realm are systems for building. Those that are most powerful are also often the most flexible (which can cause its own set of complexity problems). As platforms for writing, blogs are much more flexible than many seem to imagine. There is no limitation on the form or content what one puts out there, from one line quips to serialized long-form narrative. And that’s why, I think, academics should embrace the platform in its variability.
As the issue of credit was mentioned by Doucet, and seems to be a perennial concern, I’d suggest that there is a natural place for the blog to fit in one’s tenure dossier, and it isn’t with research. Given the flexibility of the platform, the varied forms of writing it inhabits, and the differing publics it reaches, I place the academic’s blog in the category of service (and occasionally teaching). Whether one writes about their specialty content and historiography/literature, their process, news and current events, or whatever, they are reaching out to new and different publics than they ever will through the lowly journal article or the staid monograph. They also are engaging in a form of community building through the web that is vital, I believe, for the academy’s social relevance. This is not to say that writing for the web should be, in historian’s parlance, primarily about popular narrative. Being public with what we do alone starts to break down the ivory tower.
In my own dossier, this is what I did– I included a bit of explanation about what parezcoydigo is and what I do here. I included stats, which while not impressive at web scale certainly are at academic journal article scale. And, using Anthologize, I put together “books” of everything I’ve written here, as well as a best-of bit. For my not-so-tech-inclined brethren, I also printed the Anthologize-produced pdfs to include in my physical dossier. So, I asked for credit and, in the narrative of my department, received credit for public service.
(I’m writing this on a plane, and as I was finishing that last sentence, two Delta jets going east and west and my plane, heading north, just passed within a few thousand feet of each other, split only by altitude! Crazy three-dimensional space. It’s the closest call I’ve seen with flights 35 weeks or so a year. Except for the time the collision avoidance system took over and put us into a pretty steep dive.)
Ultimately, though, I think credit is a secondary issue. I’ll go further than above and say that a blog isn’t just a platform for writing; it’s also a platform for engagement and smart community. Writing, engagement, and smart community are things that any academic should get behind.